It is not unlike me to watch a subtitled foreign film. In fact, one of my favorite films ever is Run Lola Run, a German film subtitled in English (the English dub version is just horrible and ruins the movie, skip if you can) starring Franka Potente.
It can be hard to find a good foreign horror film at times when the mood for one hits; they are either before my time or just never show up in top 10 lists of foreign films anywhere for me to come across. That being said, I was very glad to come across the Spanish language Blind Dead tetralogy just by chance.
The first installment of this series is entitled ‘Tombs of the Blind Dead’, written and directed by Amando de Ossorio in 1971. Originally called ‘La Noche del terror ciego’(‘The Night of the Blind Terror’), this film focuses on the Knights Templar (only referred to as Knights of the East in the film, yet they wear the Templar uniform), a real-life order who were charged with witchcraft and executed. They were left hanging on the gallows so birds could peck out their eyes and their corpses eventually return to life when anyone dares venture into their abandoned village and monastery of Berzano after dark.
The plot is that Virginia, Betty, and Roger decide to take a vacation by train. Enroute, Virginia, sensing interest between Betty, her long time best friend, and Roger, her boyfriend, and having seen a village outside the train window, jumps off the moving train to have some time alone. She attempts to spend the night in the village, only to have the knights awaken and come after her, killing her. Later, Betty and Roger, after arriving at their destination, rent some horses to go back to the village to try tofind Virginia. Like the knights, Virginia’s corpse soon starts walking as well, out on the hunt of humans.
As the story continues, Betty and Roger go to a librarian to learn of the knights, finding out at the librarians brother, Pedro, is a smuggler in the area of Berzano. It is thought that Pedro could be using the knight legend to cover his activities, hiding from prying eyes. After going to see him, Betty and Roger manage to convince him to go with them to Berzano, to spend the night there in hope of finding out what happened to Virginia. Soon, the church bells sound and the knights awaken once again, closing in.
The knights look very much like out of a Tolkien novel, arms outstretched, slow to walk, but able to ride ghostly horses. Even Virginia walks at a slow pace. These are not your fast moving primal zombies (the director didn’t even like them being referred to as zombies, but rather that they resembled mummies). Blind, they hunt by sound and can follow anything making noise, including heartbeats. The wonderful soundtrack is by Antón García Abril, showcasing well placed screams, groans, creepy music, and Templar chanting to do wonders to add to the atmosphere of the abandoned village from a long time ago. The ghostly horses footsteps are shown in slow motion and have a nice echo to them in the still air. The Spanish women and countryside also add to the visual appeal of the movie.
Most of the time the subtitles stand out and are easy to read, I counted only a handful of scenes where this was not the case, where the background color blended in with the subtitle color washing them out. That aside, however, subtitles also means that non-native speakers miss a lot of the nuances of the actors expressions and body language while they are speaking on screen. Despite this, María Elena Arpón (Virginia) and José Thelman (Pedro) come across as very charismatic, they have a good screen presence, and are memorable characters. Francisco Sanz as Prof. Candel (the librarian) is well cast, his look is the stereotypical scholarly type role with the glasses and peppered hair and goatee, and he’s instrumental in explaining the background story of the knights to both Betty and Roger as well as the viewers.
If terror build up (as opposed to in your face destruction and gore) and nice cinematography interest you, this is definitely a film worthy of a viewing or two, if not a place on your shelf. Eurohorror at its finest.